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Animism by Forrest Fang
Sans Serif: Unbound
Back to Life (2-CD)
(featuring Steve Roach): The Shaman's Heart II
Day Out of Time (10th anniversary Deluxe Edition CD + DVD)
Fang has been making music since the ‘80s when he was part of the DIY ethos of the underground cassette culture scene. In the ‘90s, he emerged on the electronic music scene with an unique and eclectic Pan-Asian blend of exotic instruments and modern ambience. Over his previous three Projekt releases spanning the last decade, he has created hypnotic pieces featuring layers of primarily electronic sound.
Fang says, “I love hearing music that harmonizes influences from diverse sources. I feel I’ve come very close to achieving that with this release. I’ve been searching for a free-flowing sound that blends my interests in deep, layered ambient music, minimalist music, and non-Western folk and classical traditions. I try to find a common thread in these traditions as if they were part of a new hybrid style.”
"Fang has come up with a compelling Asian new-music sensibility all his own. He's a multiculturalist's dream: blending heterogeneous sources into rich, overpowering sonorities, with rhythmic ostinatos that won't let you sit still. There's too much rigor, austerity, and rumbling electronic discord for the music to ever lapse into New Age." -VILLAGE VOICE
Besides acoustic and electric violins and mandolins, he embellishes his atmospheric textures with melodies and polyrhthms from stringed and percussion instruments such as the Turkish lavta, Peruvian bandurria, Filipino kulintang, Mexican cantaro and Balinese kendang.
The album starts off with a bang as "Tailing Wind" dissolves into a kaleidoscope of textures and a dialogue among primal drums, gongs and processed strings. The mood momentarily lightens as "The Chameleon's Paintbox" combines the lyricism of the lavta (a Turkish lute) with hypnotic minimalism from piano, strings and evolving harmonics. With "Islands In the Sky," hand drums and other textural percussion, along with double tracked violins and electric mandolin, support a bed of tropical ambient atmospheres. A more primeval mood prevails in "A Tributary Unwinds," in which dan bau (a one-stringed Vietnamese instrument), Tibetan bells, cantaro, hand percussion, violin and cane flutes weave in and out of a subtle stream of tones and textures. Several ambient pieces round out the album, closing with "Resting Point," a meditative environmental piece complemented by the elongated tones of the Marxolin, a Depression-era zither.
Animism is a celebration of life's internal rhythms and their ultimate path to rest.
Ad eccezione di "A Tributary Unwinds", in cui ritornano i toni tribali e gli archi, i restanti quattro brani godono di una compattezza esemplare, i suoni diventano tutt'uno muovendosi sinuosi con tocchi di oscurità nella conclusiva "Resting Point" e architetture circolari e riflessive nella magnetica "Sleeping Snakes": sono questi i passaggi che tendono maggiormente a riallacciarsi ai precedenti dischi di Fang, dove le pulsioni etniche vengono assorbite in uno stile preesistente al fine di variarlo e amplificarne l'effetto uditivo. Indubbiamente in Animism si sentono ancora forti le influenze di gente come Brian Eno e Steve Reich, nonché della musica minimale di Riley e La Monte Young, tutti musicisti cari all'artista nipponico, che riesce però a variare la formula con un'abbondante iniezione di world music, ovvero di influssi provenienti dalle sonorità tradizionali non occidentali. In pratica due anime sognanti, una elettronica e l'altra strumentale, sfociano nello stesso mare, dando vita ad una commistione affascinante che a tratti si fonde a meraviglia ed in altri vede il sopravvento di una delle due correnti. Rispetto ai precedenti lavori di Forrest si avverte un aumento della carica sperimentale, con brani meno ossessivi che lasciano più spazio alla spiritualità. I maggiori punti di contatto si sentono col penultimo album "Phantoms", in cui iniziavano ad emergere delle necessità compositive diverse, ma non ancora così radicali rispetto al passato. Lo stesso Fang parla di questa sua creatura come di un ibrido nato dalla sintesi di tre fonti diverse: sicuramente un'evoluzione stilistica imponente che sta dando risultati importanti. Difficile non esserne rapiti. Rating: 8.5/10 -Michele Viali
Fang captured everyone's attention, showing an original musical personality: he showed how it was possible to be "discreet" and "oblique" in a field where these characteristics were hard to find: Fang is exceptional in finding those combinations of drones, percussions and themes that evoke feelings and different cultures, with the perfect blend of past and present. I say "different cultures", because it is undeniable that in his music you feel the meeting that Western people such as John Fahey and Terry Riley had with the East. Anyone can appreciate the special measure in the use of percussion range (from Balinese gamelan to Burma's gongs) and the use of traditional instruments (violins, mandolins and guitars of the Far East) that avoids the bad paths of the new age music: we are sure to always find a refined musical product. You perceive these sensations also in the subsequent album World Diary and in the discrete predominance of Eastern culture in the beautiful Folklore. "The Blind messenger" closes this wonderful time, because from that moment on, Fang will try to focus on just the side "ambient" of his music, with less tension on the side "world". This change is accompanied by his final transition (?) to Projekt Records: he will publish the valid Gongland and Phantoms, two works that highlight the growth of Fang in sound constructions. As regards the collaborations with other musicians, we must remember the empathy with guitarist Carl Weingarten and the minimalist drones of Sans Serif.
Animism brings him back to the level of his best period, with a greater weight given to acoustic instruments (that draw the melodic lines): despite having the support of the mastering of Robert Rich, Fang is wise in the composition, in the construction of his music and therefore he must be part of the protagonists of ethno-electronics area. One more thing: it would be appropriate to reprint the first three albums (LP) of his career, which are very difficult to find!!
Italian original:Dopo un decennio di rodaggio, la musica "ambient" alla fine degli anni ottanta, si stava preparando a nuovi traguardi. Se in quel decennio ('78-'88) si erano instaurati delle vere e proprie caratterizzazioni musicali (si pensi ai soundscapes di Eno, la percussività world di Hassell, le costruzioni soniche di Roach in bilico tra elettronica melodica e tribalità), quello successivo è ancora alla ricerca di una sua nuova organizzazione. La direzionalità presa dagli artisti verso la new age music aveva provocato già uno spostamento dei musicisti nati come "ambientali" verso sonorità che inglobassero strumenti e sensazioni di molte altre parti del mondo, ma spesso il connubio tra folkore e sonorità ambientali virava in progetti musicali che privilegiavano un risultato che stesse bene anche alle vendite; pochi avevano in mente di preservare una certa purezza strumentale: tra quanti si facevano portavoce di questa purezza "mistica" si ricordano Stephan Micus (vedi mio post precedente) che comunque non usava l'elettronica o Kitaro nel suo periodo iniziale. Tra questi musicisti ne emerse anche uno, americano di origini cinesi, che sembra avesse più a cuore la laurea in avvocatura che la musica: Forrest Fang.
La svolta verso Eno e Roach (che diventeranno i suoi punti imprescindibili di ispirazione) avviene alla fine degli anni ottanta, quando due eventi cambiano il corso dei suoi pensieri: il primo è la conoscenza della suonatrice di zheng, Zhang Yan, che marchia la filosofia orientale nelle sue composizioni; il secondo è la pubblicazione di un album "The wolf at the ruins" nel 1989, che può essere considerato uno dei capolavori della world music di stampo elettronico, uno di quei pochi lavori in cui viene effettuato quel fine lavoro di compenetrazione tra soundscapes ambientali, ritmicità world e sospiri "orientali". Con quell'episodio Fang si impose all'attenzione di tutti, paventando una originale personalità musicale che faceva intravedere come fosse possibile anche essere "discreti" ed "obliqui" in un settore dove tali caratteristiche erano difficile da trovare: Fang è eccezionale nel trovare quelle combinazioni di droni, percussioni e temi che evocano sentimenti e culture diverse, che sanno trovare quella giusta sintesi tra passato e presente.
Dico culture diverse, perchè è innegabile che dentro la sua musica si avverte l'incontro che personaggi occidentali come John Fahey o Terry Riley hanno avuto con l'Oriente. Di lui si apprezza la particolare misura con cui usa la gamma percussionistica (dai gamelan balinesi ai gong della Birmania) e gli strumenti tradizionali (violini, mandolini e chitarre del Far East asiatico) che alla fine smorza molto l'impronta new age, dando vita ad un raffinatissimo prodotto musicale. Queste sensazioni si vivono anche nel successivo "World diary" e nel discreto prevalere della cultura orientale nello splendido "Folklore".
"The Blind messenger" chiude il cerchio con questo meraviglioso periodo poichè da quel momento in poi Fang troverà più opportuno provare ad approfondire il lato esclusivamente "ambient" della sua musica con una minore efficacia della tensione verso aspetti "world" e questo cambiamento verrà evidenziato dal suo definitivo(?) passaggio discografico alla Projekt Record, con cui pubblicherà il primo e valido "Gongland" del 2000. Nei dodici anni passati, Forrest ha inciso poco per la verità e più che con progetti da solista (l'unico cd in tal senso è "Phantoms", un'ispirato lavoro "minore" della sua discografia) ha soddisfatto alcune sue esigenze compositive, lavorando ad un paio di diversificazioni: quella empatica con il chitarrista Carl Weingarten e quella totalmente dronistica (minimalista) del Sans Serif.
Animism lo riporta nuovamente ai livelli del suo periodo migliore, grazie ad una maggiore quantità del peso affidato agli strumenti acustici che dettano le linee melodiche: ormai Fang (a cui si accompagna pressochè costante il sostegno di Robert Rich alla masterizzazione) ha raggiunto una tale sapienza nella costruzione della sua musica che è difficile non farlo partecipe dei musicisti protagonista dell'area dell'etno-elettronica.
Un'ultima cosa: un'accorgimento necessario della sua carriera dovrà essere quello di ristampare o reincidere i primi tre albums (LP) della sua carriera (per la scomparsa Ominous Thud) che già subivano la limitazione delle copie di tiratura e che sono letteralmente introvabili. Spero che Forrest cerchi di provvedere a questa mancanza!
“Talking Wind” begins the ritual with a calming intensity like a chase scene from a dream. “The Chameleon’s Paintbox” searches for its soul in the Far East as the droning grows with the bits of Asian chord progressions.
The album moves into more traditional ethereal droning with the dark “Evening Chorus”, lighter “Passing Suns”, and the slippery, winding “Sleeping Snakes”. All of the droning variations funnel into coda “Resting Place”, a solemn breath of experience and relief. Maybe not as varied The Blind Messenger, one of Fang’s bright spots, Animism has just as much wonderful moments of awakening ambiance.
In “The Chameleon’s Paintbox,” all those modes of playing fall together and layer into a mesmerizing strata. It opens with a plucked melody–given its swarthy Eastern flair, I would guess it is the Turkish lavda–abetted by the singing notes of bowed strings. Other instruments step briefly out from the chorus, then rejoin the swirl of collective sound. Animism carries a very strong narrative feel as Fang spins out his scenes. “A Tributary Unwinds” begins in a dusky, dense place where careful clatters of percussion and vocal groans peek out from behind the trees; a violin, clear and high describes the course of the water. Fang modulates the pace beautifully as the voyage continues, hitting meaningful pauses that elevate the sense of story and movement. There are also deep ambient drifts on Animism. Long synth pads create the relaxed sigh of “Evening Chorus” as gentle, gong-like sounds resonate in the background. This track has a calm warmth and fading sense that really conveys the passage through twilight. “Resting Point” closes the disc out, 10-minutes of gliding, meditative washes and a wonderfully cleansing feel. Animism is another superb release from Forrest Fang, a rich work that rewards both deep listening and the many repeat plays it will undoubtedly receive.
"Tailing Wind" hits straightly this fascinating route with its intense, nearly eclectic blend of strings, percussion and above mentioned Kulintang. This opening composition attracts with a strongly primordial feel. Darker dronescapes of "The Chameleon's Paintbox" are soon joined by an enchantingly expressive palette of euphoric strings. And even if some delicate Western-infused elements join the stage, just close your eyes and you are immediately transported by this ultimate masterpiece into absolutely exciting places, where all the fragrances and glamor of wonderful Middle Eastern palaces can be explored. Magnificently colorful and beautiful piece, Forrest!!! Sorrowful strings with gongs lead "Islands In The Sky" into deeply meditative realms which are later shifting into a chillout phase before journeying into adventurously magical and filigree fusion of finest Asian and Western musical ingredients. Organic groovy exotica at its most alluring! We are encountering a richly sculpted, intriguingly fragranced and skillfully balanced mixture of atmospheric or meditative soundscapes with Forrest's Chinese heritage and Fourth World musical traditions.
The next two compositions, "Evening Chorus" and "Passing Suns" sedate with heavenly floating washes, a purely aural bliss is awaiting for everyone!!! "A Tributary Unwinds" is colored with deeper drones and cavernous disruptions at the beginning, but soon the tribal drumming and string magic steal the show. A performance holding the signature that is only Forrest Fang! The interaction of all acoustics and electronics is just amazing in this composition, to my ears, certainly an Ambient Hall Of Fame virtuosity! "Sleeping Snakes" are joined by heavier and intense spiraling drone sounds enriched by delicate tinkling bells. The closing piece, "Resting Point", precisely displays its title with serenely wandering drifts presenting Forrest Fang at his most tranquil craft! Not to forget, having Robert Rich behind the mastering desk is another bonus. Animism is the next benchmark release of Forrest Fang and one of the indisputable highlights of 2012 so far! Thank you so much, Forrest, for inviting me to experience spectacular adventures and breathtaking scenery of all these extraordinary territories; you are a true sonic innovator!!! -Richard Gürtler
The electronics are moody and airy. Texturals provide vaporous backdrops for the melodies, stratospheric vistas ripe with understated glory. While more pronounced electronics establish luscious flows to support the other instruments, sparkling currents of ethereal beauty.
The fourth world acoustic instruments generally fall into two categories: stringed and percussive. The strings produce an uncommon strummed resonance of the type that reverberates in an eerie manner, chords that evoke the calm of reposing beneath boughs heavy with cherry blossoms. While the percussives lend a non-tribal yet primitive edge with their relaxed patter, like metal bowls struck to create single beats which shimmer with a tangible luminosity. The majority of these rhythms are unhurried, serving more as embellishment than locomotion. Meanwhile, ethnic woodwinds generate a breathy presence akin to spirits spinning amid the sonic flow. The violins provide a sharp poignancy with their haunting resonance.
These compositions establish a relaxed temperament dedicated to illustrating how everything (animate or inert) possesses its own life force. This unilateral verve is superbly communicated through fluid melodies that fuse a sense of buoyant drifting with a subtle bounciness. The tunes achieve a spectral appeal that is curiously grounded through the use of the ethnic instruments. Thoroughly worthwhile.
In just an hour, Mr Fang takes his listeners into an exciting and multi-colored world where the exotic and the organic seamlessly melt. The nine highly atmospheric compositions contain lots of energy along more subdued moments, and overall shows quite some similarities with the fine crafted world-music oriented output of Robert Rich (who was in charge of the sophisticated mastering of Animism), but also Al Gromer Kahn, David Parsons and Loren Nerell come to mind.
It’s the smooth soaring and elevating impact of the alchemy of sounds that makes the outcome sparkle and glow softly in the long run. "Tailing Wind" already makes a beautiful entrance to this well-crafted and hypnotizing electro-acoustic journey, but the third track "Island in the Sky" tops it by far, smoothly lifting things up and taking it into an even higher dimension.
Other ear-catchers are "Sleeping Snakes" and "Resting Point, found at the end of "Animism": both paint a warm, resonating and highly contemplative atmosphere. The fact that several of the hybrid, electro-acoustic spaces on the release are graced with some mesmerizing electric and acoustic violin playing along tantalizing percussion, make me recommend Animism even more.
In addition to this recording, Forrest Fang has released the 26-minute Ep "Seeds Of Memory" with five past and present generative pieces, intended to complement the Animism release. It’s available for free in Flac and Mp3 format from the Treetrunk netlabel. -Bert Strolenberg
Afterward the multi-instrumentalist American of a Chinese origin moves its intra-personal vibrations with a stunning worship for Eolus and its whims. Animism deflects towards a torrent of winds which will blow with strength and/or passion until the dawns of "Resting Point"."Passing Suns" begins with a slow waltz of drones. These drones are warm and suave. They moderate little by little, letting filter more bright lines under the shape of fine striation of synth which cry and glide over an earth of sorrow. But the anger of these synth winds, as well as violins’, is not satisfied yet. These winds of silver are blowing with such a fury on "A Tributary Unwinds" that they mask the tranquility of the aboriginal tom-toms which try to delude the ferocity with it. The percussions bursts which are scattered by the winds bring us in the feudal universe of Steve Roach. Dense gusts of deserts pursue their merciless road of natural predators on "Sleeping Snakes" and its bells which ring blindly in this ambient universe sat on storms of clays. These ringing resist to the strength of winds to trumpet a soft tinkled serenade which spreads its charm until the finale of "Sleeping Snakes", before that dark and floating winds win back their rights on "Resting Point" to conclude an album to the colors of a melancholy divided between its tribal souvenirs and its ancestral regrets. -Sylvain Lupari
Instead of easing one in gently as one might expect, Fang opens the album in dramatic fashion with “Tailing Wind,” a dream-like swirl of exotic percussion and fortissimo wails that conveys the feel of an hallucinatory spirit evocation being conducted somewhere in the Far East. The album's ‘world' feel emerges even more directly during “The Chameleon's Paintbox” when the pluck of the lavta resounds against a dense backdrop of strings. Yes, there are prototypical New Age meditations (“Evening Chorus” and “Passing Suns”) that form soothing way-stations between the more explorative pieces, and “Resting Point” does close the album with ten beatific minutes of glassy shimmer. But even when a track such as “Islands In The Sky” begins with New Age-styled atmospherics, it quickly grows in intensity and volume once the introductory section is over. Thereafter, the music rises to a level of contained jubilation when double-tracked violins soar sweetly over a bed of swaying hand drum rhythms and glimmering textures. “A Tributary Unwinds” likewise grows progressively more robust when its bells and hand drums enter to lend the sinuous violin playing some added heft.
Labels aside, Animism often impresses on two counts especially: for its rich sonorities, obviously, but also for its compositional design. Its more fully developed pieces such as “Islands In The Sky” and “A Tributary Unwinds” stand out for how satisfyingly they work through their respective stages. Fang has taken great care in not only arranging the album material but in shaping the arc of its pieces. In speaking of Animism, the composer himself has described it as his attempt to harmonize ambient, minimalist, and non-Western folk and classical traditions into a new hybrid style; the resultant work argues that, while the hybrid in question might not necessarily be new, it's certainly effectively realized.